Her team has overcome Peyton Manning at his place and now ventures to a familiar house of horrors for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Heather Lloyd, a.k.a. “The Blue Mare,” shares her insights with Phillip B. Wilson on the Indianapolis Colts earning a road trip to New England to decide a berth in Super Bowl XLIV.
Phil B: I guess you didn’t have to wear a Denver Broncos hat or jersey for a picture? You avoided that embarrassment?
Heather: (Laughs.) I really did. My fellow ‘Fan of the Week’ from Sunday Night Football, who represented the Broncos, is going to have to wear a Colts hat and take a picture. I haven’t pushed the issue on him. I’m going to give him a little bit of time to recover before I make him do it, but yeah, he will be wearing a Colts hat and I will not be wearing a Broncos hat, so that was the smallest outcome of this which was good.
Phil B: So how would you describe your emotions watching that game Sunday?
Heather: I always know when it’s going to be a good game because I just have a sick feeling in my stomach the whole time. When the Colts go in there and they just dominate someone, you can kind of sit back and relax. When the Colts get dominated by another team, then you kind of sit back and you’re depressed. I never stop watching, but you’re certainly not on the edge of your seat. But, yeah, this was one of those games where I was in it until the last second. I was stressed. I was pacing at times. It’s hard to just sit there and watch when you’ve got all that adrenaline. At times, you almost think that you’d rather be in there playing because at least you have an outlet for everything that you’re feeling. I don’t think I’ll be hitting the field any time soon, though, but yeah, it was really, really fun to watch. And the thing is, too, even at the end when the Colts got ahead of them by a pretty good margin, no one knows better than Colts fans what Peyton Manning can do, even with 30 seconds left. So it was almost impossible to relax until the very end of it. It was exciting, it was fun, and I just really could not have been more proud when it was over.
Phil B: I was thinking as I walked out of the stadium very late, last one out of the press box, where that game ranked in the hierarchy of playoff wins. I know if they would beat New England Sunday, of course, our perspective would change. But I just felt like, as I walked out of there, that we’re never going to forget this one. This is one that’s going to stay there for a long, long time. This is one that they’ll mention right up there with that AFC Championship Game because it was Peyton, it was on the road and it was the playoffs. Some people might think I’m overstating it, but do you feel that way?
Heather: I think it’s a top three. The AFC Championship Game (against the Patriots in 2007) still takes the edge, but this could be No. 2 for the Colts. Really, it was that big, it was that exciting. And I really think they were even more of an underdog in this game than the Colts were when they beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, which makes this game rank right up there. The fact that no one outside of Indianapolis was giving them much of a chance to win this game made it that much sweeter.
Phil B: Did you care when the reports came out that Peyton played with a torn quad?
Heather: It was interesting the timing of that, how it all came out, the very next morning, of course. Here’s the thing, listen, it’s the playoffs. Did anyone watch the earlier game on Sunday? Did you watch the game between the Packers and the Cowboys? Did you watch Aaron Rodgers limping around out there? Did you watch Tony Romo get sacked a few times and almost not get up? Tony Romo is playing with a fractured back and Aaron Rodgers is playing with probably what will turn out to be a torn calf. It’s the playoffs. That’s just kind of how it is. Reggie Wayne has played most of the season with a torn triceps, right? When you get to the playoffs, you can count on one thing: you are not going to have a healthy team, you’re just not. Miraculously, the Colts right now have the healthiest team they’ve had in a while, but part of that is because the guys who weren’t healthy aren’t even out there anymore. You know what? So much of this that you cannot control is the health of your team when you get to the playoffs. It’s a factor and it’s just a factor you have to play through. Personally, I felt for Peyton. You could tell he was not himself. You could tell he was not terribly mobile, and he’s not mobile really to begin with. It was certainly reflective in his performance, but you know what? Every team is going to have that. And the two quarterbacks who played in the other game Sunday were in just as bad a shape, maybe worse.
Phil B: I felt the same way. I thought the timing of it, coming out a day later, that was just an excuse. I know that somebody in position of authority tipped that off so that it would get reported.
Heather: It was clearly information that someone wanted out there, and that’s fine.
Phil B: It doesn’t matter. It’s all about winning.
Heather: Exactly. It’s not like the Colts have had health on their side this season, either.
Phil B: So without further ado, Heather, sweetheart, dear, baby …
Phil B: I’ve made this trip three other times in January.
Heather: Oh, Lord.
Phil B: I don’t know if you’ve ever fancied Foxborough, Mass., in January before, but this has not ended well before.
Phil B: I want to believe they have a shot and I want to think that anything is possible. I’m trying to sound more like Heather Hill Lloyd, and having optimism and not skepticism. And yet, I think of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and I just, I don’t know. Tell me what I should think.
Heather: It’s amazing to think the Colts went through all of that on Sunday, and the grand prize is going to Foxborough in January to play the Patriots. It really is, isn’t it?
Phil B: (Laughs.)
Heather: You kind of wake up on Monday and go, ‘Wow, this is what we fought for?’ But you know what, here’s the one thing I’ll say: What I love right now and what gives me hope no matter what and no matter who we’re playing, is this team is actually building right now. They kind of hit that mid-season slump where we all kind of sat back and sighed and said, ‘Oh, good Lord. What is happening and where is this going to end?’ Well, not only did they get out of that, but they are building every week. And every week, when they’ve had to take another step up to play a little bit better team, they’ve been able to do that. They’ve been able to take that step high enough to overcome that team. So that just gives me the feeling that they just want this. They are working really hard to get it. The coaches are focused. They’re using stuff in the playbook that’s working. The players are embracing it and going with it. I just feel like as a team, they’re just really focused and they really want this. I am hoping this fourth time is going to be the charm for this new era of Colts facing the Patriots. We’re going to get ‘em one of these times. I sure hope it is this time. And really there’s no reason now that it can’t be. Earlier this season, did I feel like they were going to beat the Patriots? I felt like they had a chance and I was hopeful that they were going to beat the Patriots. I wasn’t shocked that they didn’t. This time around, I can’t say necessarily I’ll be shocked if they don’t, I’ll be disappointed, but this time I give them a lot better chance than I gave them earlier in the season, I really do. I see what they’re doing right now and I kind of feel like, they were able to do it against the Broncos, why shouldn’t they be able to do it against the Patriots in Foxborough in January?
Phil B: Do you realize Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, together, they’re in their ninth AFC Championship Game?
Heather: Here’s the thing that’s amazing. I look at all of this and say, ‘OK, this is the fourth time that we’re going up against them here with this new group of Colts. How does it always come down to the Colts trying to get the Patriots off their back, no matter what team we have?’ It always comes down to this. We always go at ‘em with this series of games that the Patriots win. A big storyline becomes, ‘When are the Colts going to beat the Patriots?’ Here we are again. ‘When are the Colts going to beat the Patriots with Andrew Luck?’ It’s amazing it always comes down to this, but I will say this: With Peyton, he had to get Brady off his back, the monkey on there for quite a while. Andrew Luck hasn’t really had it on there for that long. But it makes it exciting. It’s a storyline. I know just like with the first time around, once the Colts beat the Patriots it will make it even sweeter that it took ‘em however many tries it takes ‘em to do it.
Phil B: Who are you most concerned about? Is it Brady? Is it ‘Gronk’ (Rob Gronkowski)? Is it someone else? Belichick?
Heather: I was just going to say, to be honest with you, it’s Belichick. You just never know what you’re going to get with him. You watch him when the Ravens played the Patriots. That guy will pull stuff out of, I guess in this case out of the rulebook, and figure out something. How does that happen? Their center goes down. They get a young center out there. That clearly wasn’t working for them against the Ravens. So he’s got in the back of that evil genius mind of his (laughs) that he can just pull the center, throw a running back in there who is ineligible and move on that way. Who does that? I guess he’s got this stuff, again, the evil genius in his factory at night, pulling this stuff together. Who does that? But that’s what you’re up against with him. And I understand why (Ravens coach) John Harbaugh was upset and felt like he didn’t even know if what they were doing was legal. Again, though, that’s what you’re up against. He can pull anything out of his hat and you just have to be ready for it. I know coach Chuck Pagano talked to the NFL. I know he talked to the officials. I also heard he talked to John Harbaugh, and that makes me feel good because, God knows, Harbaugh would love nothing more than to see Pagano get revenge against the Patriots for him. They’ll be ready for that aspect should the Patriots try that again. But you just never know what you’re going to get with him. Tom Brady is very good at executing, so is their defense, their running game, they will execute all parts. But it all stems from Bill Belichick.
Phil B: So, no matter what happens, you’re going to remember that this was probably beyond our expectations, and you’re going to be appreciative of this season … I can’t say that. Scratch all that. You want to go to the Super Bowl. You want ‘em to go, that’s all there is to it. You only get so many opportunities in life. Forget all of this ‘playing with house money’ stuff. Bull crap. You want to go to the Super Bowl, right?
Heather: This is what I’ll say. The Colts have already won in my book. They took that next step. They made it to the AFC Championship Game after the first year together, making a playoff game. Second year, winning a playoff game and going on. Third year now, they’ve won two games and are headed to the AFC Championship Game. And you know what? We cannot ask any more of them. On the other hand, based on what they’ve done the last couple of weeks, I also would not bet against them right now. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Laughs.)
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.